Doctor Who
DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH (S8E01)

I’m a bit behind the 8ball with regards to my Doctor Who reviews (and blog updates in general to be honest) so many apologies for that, but unfortunately – life as they say, “got in the way”!

I should be able to start catching up soon though and I thought a good place to start would be with the newest season of Doctor Who and Peter Capaldi.

I guess to start with, after watching the first episode, I have to state, that I don’t have the same trepidation for this Doctor as I did for Matt Smith.  Matt Smith seemed to find his way over the course of several episodes and eventually grew to become the quirky Doctor that we all fell in love with … Peter Capaldi on the other hand … well he’s more of a return to yesteryear and his Doctor is not someone that you would consider as a possible romantic interest – at least I wouldn’t if I was of the female persuasion!

 

Doctor Who in his newest incarnation really is a return to type and seems to be a lot angrier (those eyebrows!) than any of the previous three Doctors (not counting the “War Doctor” of course) we’ve seen recently.  While he’s a bit confused in this episode (due to his regeneration) as discussed later – his extremely strong Scottish brogue gets the point that he is no longer simply our friend, but is now perhaps comfortable in the role of our teacher and even perhaps our mentor as he tries to ensure that humanity makes it into the future.

PLOT

Late Victorian London. A Tyrannosaurus is rampaging in the River Thames, much to the shock of onlookers.

When Madame Vastra and her team arrive, Jenny notices that the dinosaur has something stuck in its throat … it coughs up the TARDIS, which lands upright on the banks of the river.

Using some high tech tools, Madame Vastra manages to contain the dinosaur while she, Jenny and Strax (always love the potato!) descend to the TARDIS.  Strax knocks on the door of the TARDIS and the newly regenerated Doctor appears.

He and a dishevelled Clara leave the TARDIS, and the Doctor refamiliarises himself with the Gang – albeit poorly, due to his post-regenerative confusion. After failing to identify his companions and complaining that Vastra’s sonic shields are giving his “lady friend” (the dinosaur) a headache, the Doctor suggests that everyone “take five” and immediately falls unconscious. When Clara confirms that this is indeed the Doctor, Vastra comments:

Here we go again….

Awakening in Vastra’s home, the Doctor has a few more rampages about the room he’s in and Vastra also quizzes Clara on her relationship with the Doctor and what he really means to her as well as his appearance.

As an aside – This episode does a really good job of addressing the fact that this Doctor looks different to his predecessors and also looks like a character from a previous episode of the Doctor.  I’ll discuss this in more depth later, but it should be mentioned.

Outside on the street, people are still looking at the giant dinosaur. A man called Alf guesses the Tyrannosaurus is part of a government plan and then says to a mysterious man there is something wrong with the dinosaur’s neck, that makes it look unreal.

The man replies that Alf has good eyes, and he needs them as a gift to replace his bad eyes. He reveals the other side of his face – it looks like a clockwork robot & in fact looks very much like the robots from the episode a Girl in the Fireplace (with David Tennant) – and then proceeds to remove Alf’s eyes.

The Doctor proceeds to escape from Vastra’s home in an effort to save his Dinosaur, but is too late as the creature is burning in the Thames.  It is at this point that the Doctor starts to question the number of spontaneous combustion’s in the city & comes to the realization that something nefarious is happening (isn’t it always!).

When Clara finds an ad in a newspaper for the “impossible girl” she realizes that the Doctor is trying to communicate with her and she proceeds to a rendezvous with him in a local restaurant.  Once there however it comes to light that the Doctor did not in fact invite Clara so a big early question is who sent the message?

Realizing that they are in fact in a body factory for spare parts, the Doctor and Clara attempt to escape but are captured and taken into the heart of the factory itself.  Here they see the clockwork man that had taken Alf’s eyes recharging.  The Doctor is forced to abandon Clara in the factory leaving her to fend for herself and while this is a terrifying and frightening episode, it shows that Clara is actually someone in her own right that deserves to stand with the Doctor.  Clara recalls the Doctor’s earlier suggestion and attempts to escape the buried spaceship in a single breath which is a terryfing and tense sequence, but unfortunately Clara is unable to escape and ends up being captured.

Taken to Half-Face Man for interrogation, Clara is actually able to utilize her “teaching skills” and outbluffs him before the Doctor arrives in the nick of time.

Clara’s obvious terror is so crucial here. The one major way that the past season distinguished Clara from Amy is that the former is not a naturally brave person; both “Cold War” and “Hide” demonstrated that Clara could feel overwhelmed by the danger of the situation—understandable enough, really—but could find the strength to struggle through it.

For the first time, teaching isn’t just a random thing she does when not traveling through the universe; it’s something that offers its own life experiences, and she disarms the robot just as readily as those unruly students did her on her first day at Coal Hill School.

While the Doctor and the Half-Face Man fight above London, Clara and Madame Vastra combat the robots inside the restaurant.  A very different Doctor to any we’ve known in a good long while admits that he might have to kill the Half-Face Man and cannot let him continue his rampage throughout the streets of London.  When the robot talks about the “Promised Land” the Doctor tells him there is no such place and he should know.  Realizing that the only way the robots in the restaurant will stop is by killing the robot, the Doctor and the Half-Face Man struggle at the doorway of his “escape pod”.  When the robots fighting Madame Vastra all fall silent, we know that the Doctor was successful (or was he?  did the Half-Face Man realize he needed to die and completed the act himself?).

The Gang return to Vastra’s home to find that the Doctor and the TARDIS have both vanished. Later, Clara (back in her modern clothing) asks Vastra if she’s got a vacancy since it looks like she’s stuck in Victorian times, but Vastra assures her he’ll be back. She’s proven true as the TARDIS returns, telling Clara “Give him hell; he’ll always need it.”

Clara finds the interior changed, with a lighter shade of mood lighting in the time rotor and some furniture about. The Doctor admits he’s not sure about the new look himself after Clara says she doesn’t like it.

As Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor—or, as he really ought to be called from now on, the Doctor—observes toward the end of his debut outing,

“I’m the Doctor, I’ve lived for over 2,000 years, and not all of them were good; I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.”

Clara, still having mixed feelings at this new incarnation of the Doctor, is unsure if she wants to stay his companion, convincing herself she doesn’t think she knows him anymore. Clara walks out of the TARDIS in modern times to answer the call, and hears the voice of the Eleventh Doctor. He explains he’s calling through time from Trenzalore just minutes before his regeneration. Clara, remembering how she found the TARDIS telephone dangling off the hook from the call box, is shocked to the point of tears from hearing from him again as he says that the man before her is still him – just changed.

Holding back her tears, Clara asks him why he would do this. The Eleventh Doctor explains that he’s phoning her because he thinks this regeneration “is gonna be a whopper”, and that if she’s afraid, the new Doctor will be even more so and needs her help to handle all this. She should not be afraid, for his sake. The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors respond to each other, both asking if it’s the Doctor on the line. When he hears the voice of his future self, the previous Doctor groans over “turning old”, which makes Clara laugh, as she also indirectly confirms his hair will be gray as well.

He’s not at all impressed at the discovery that he’ll have gray hair, knowing how young he was in his soon-to-change appearance, but braces for the change with an endearing smile as he looks forward toward more adventures with his “impossible girl”. The Eleventh Doctor says a final goodbye to Clara before he hangs up and meets up with his Clara to regenerate.

As Clara realises the Doctor had planned this to help her cope with him regenerating, the current Doctor comes to her and says he remembers the call – after all, he made it – and that what he (as the Eleventh Doctor) had said is still true, and asks her in person if she will help him.

Upset that she’s looking right through him but doesn’t view him as the same person, the Doctor begs, “Just see me.” Clara walks up to the Doctor and gives him a good look over, and when she concentrates on his eyes, she recognises him as the Doctor – her Doctor – and beams, thanking him for phoning from the past. Clara hugs him, which the Doctor says that in his current incarnation isn’t his thing, looking a bit confused and wondering where he should put his hands, but she’s unsure he’s entitled to a vote. The pair stroll off together in search of coffee, the Doctor still hesitant.

The Droid awakens in a beautiful garden, replaces his top hat on his head, and meets Missy, a mysterious woman who claims the Doctor is her boyfriend and that she likes his new accent. Helping it up she asks whether he fell from the balloon or was pushed out. The Droid then asks where he is. She tells him that he has reached the “Promised Land” at last. The woman grandly introduces his new home, “Welcome… to Heaven”.

Review

OK I know this was a doozie of an episode and it seemed like a lot happened, but as an introduction it was really good … I have to be honest I wasn’t too keen on the whole Dinosaur in London thing, but overall it turned out really well and not only did Peter Capaldi do a really good job, it introduced our new mystery too.

So much of the substance of “Deep Breath” deals with identifying and explaining the nature of the Doctor’s mistakes, particularly in his treatment of his companion Clara. Basically, the 11th Doctor—and perhaps the show in general—had forgotten that his youthful appearance was only a façade. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of reminding everyone of that fact than by turning Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi, and “Deep Breath” is at its most compelling and distinctive whenever it tackles head-on the long-ignored question of the Doctor’s true nature.

 

As promised, this new Doctor is a darker, more dangerous figure. Consider what he says to the Half-Face Man: “I have the horrible feeling that I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would.” Now, I can imagine the other new series Doctors delivering that line, albeit in very different ways. But this Doctor? It’s just a statement of fact. This isn’t who he must be because the situation forces it upon him, but more simply who he is. Perhaps it’s who he has always been, even if he only now is willing to admit it: “Those people down there. They’re never small to me. Don’t make assumptions about how far I will go to protect them, because I’ve already come a very long way. And unlike you, I do not expect to reach the Promised Land.” It’s left ambiguous whether the Doctor actually killed the Half-Face Man, or whether he simply convinced him to end his miserable existence, and the rest of this season will likely explore the deeper implications of that uncertainty.

The Doctor spent at least two lifetimes running away from his true self, and now the time for running is over. The 11th Doctor was, like all his other selves, a great and good man, but he was also selfish and capricious, unable to see how he was inherently compromised by his own contradictions, by his attempts to be both boyish goofball and ancient wanderer. And, on some level, those irreconcilable traits began to engulf Doctor Who as a whole.

Both the Doctor and Doctor Who needed clarity, and that’s what this new incarnation represents. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is the minimalist, back-to-basics take on the character; I mean, just look at his costume. We’re about to see not what the Doctor hopes to be, but who he really is. If “Deep Breath” is any indication, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun finding out who this strange new person—the one we’ve known all along—actually, properly is.

  • There are a bunch of references to Moffat’s “The Girl In The Fireplace” here, although it doesn’t really take us anywhere beyond just sort of generally justifying the reuse of some rather effective monsters.
  • “Deep Breath” also makes some cheeky references to the fact that the Doctor has seen his face before, specifically on the Roman Caecilius in “The Fires Of Pompeii.” The story seems to quickly move from the mystery of a familiar face to the related but distinct mystery of an older face, with the Doctor wondering what his subconscious is trying to tell him with this particular selection. But file away the face as one of the season’s little mysteries.
  • As for the big mysteries, we get introduced to this season’s presumptive main foe in the closing scene, as Michele Gomez shows up as the strange, faintly animalistic Missy. I’ll not even speculate on what’s going on with her, but I will point out it’s probably wise to not take everything she says at face value.
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I'm a geek! I love all things SciFi and Fantasy and have done since I first read LOTR as a kid. Escapism to fantastic worlds filled with weird and wonderful creatures initially for me was via books and comics, but with the recent surge in popularity of this fare in film and television also - I'm in a state of bliss! As the editor of Zone Six, I've been lucky to meet some other awesome authors and writers that share this love and passion. The great Ray Bradbury said - "Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn't exist yet, but soon will .. it will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again."

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